How is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed? These Are the Tests Doctors Use the Most

Alzheimer’s disease is one of many diseases still without a cure. Its signs are often subtle and don’t appear until it’s progressed significantly.

It’s the disease we’ve all heard about, and hope to never experience firsthand — or watch a loved one go through. And not only is it difficult to detect; it’s also hard to diagnose.

Dementia does have signs and symptoms. But it’s impossible to determine if someone has it without extensive medical testing.

Misconceptions about healthy aging, mental health conditions that mimic common symptoms, and the disease’s slow progression makes it difficult — but not impossible — to catch early. And as with any disease, early interventions can make a difference.

Dementia

Dementia | iStock.com/wildpixel

Once you’ve talked with your doctor about possible early signs and symptoms of the disease, they will conduct a variety of tests to rule out other possible health conditions and confirm any possible symptoms of dementia or other conditions.

Here are the types of tests you can expect a health professional to conduct when determining whether or not you, a friend, or family member could have Alzheimer’s disease.

Mental state and neuropsychological tests

Specialists trained to diagnose brain and mental health conditions can conduct these evaluations to better understand your mental state. They typically involve a series of questions meant to test your memory and thinking abilities to see if they’re what they should be based on your age.

Their overall purpose is to determine if you have dementia, and whether or not you can still perform daily tasks safely, such as driving.

Because it’s possible for depression to cause many symptoms that could be mistaken for dementia, a specialist can also either rule this out or suggest treatment to improve your mental health.

Doctors may also conduct interviews with your friends and family to get an outside perspective on how you’ve been doing lately. Those close to you might be asked to explain how your behaviors, thinking abilities, and more might have changed over time.

Lab and brain-imaging tests

Doctor doing MRI of a patient

Doctor doing MRI of a patient. | iStock.com/Photo_Concepts

A blood test can’t diagnose Alzheimer’s. But it can help rule out other health conditions that can cause certain symptoms of the disease, such as an underlying thyroid disorder.

Brain-imaging tests, however, can not only rule out other conditions, but can also help doctors assess your level of brain cell degeneration. A simple brain scan can’t go into that much detail, but an MRI, CT, or PET scan will.

When you break a bone, doctors look at the injury through an X-ray image. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease, so the best way to determine how far the disease has progressed is by looking at pictures of your brain.

Together, all these tests can give doctors a clearer picture of your dementia, how well you can still function with the disease, and the extent to which it has already affected your mind.

After an official diagnosis, your doctor will talk with you about what to do next. A diagnosis is not an immediate death sentence. Some people live years with the disease, spending many of them in relatively good health.

But it’s not too late. Regardless of your age, you can still take steps to lower your risk and extend your number of healthy, happy years.

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